‘Unbelievable’ young Tiger makes his mark
Justin Leppitsch had just hit 25 seasons in the AFL when he made a statement in December about Noah Balta that seemed awfully premature.
"With his athleticism and power, as an athlete he is the most gifted I have seen as a kid coming through," he told the Herald Sun.
"He could be years away from being the player we think he will be, but the things he does are unbelievable."
On Sunday, Leppitsch sat in the Richmond coaches' box watching Balta emerge as an AFL footballer.
Richmond insiders have always known Balta's potential as an 194cm freak athlete.
But the No.25 pick in the 2017 national draft had to put it all together.
As a mostly full strength Tigers outfit overran a Melbourne side missing 10 of its best 22 players, Balta did it all.
In the second term he took five intercept marks in 10 minutes, marking Melbourne attacking sorties at will.
After soccering through a goal with the outside of his boot, he kicked another goal from a towering mark in the pocket.
By the third quarter he was hitting up Jack Riewoldt with laces-out passes and taking on Demons with audacious handballs over their head.
In a game where Richmond ran out the winner, his 18-possession, two-goal performance that also included a stint in the ruck was the standout display.
He could play in Round 1 as a ruck/second forward role if Tom Lynch isn't ready.
WHO RUCKS AGAINST MATTHEW KREUZER?
Toby Nankervis barely set foot in the centre square early as Melbourne's midfield ran amok early.
And Braydon Preuss was having the better of Ivan Soldo as the Demons poured on seven first-quarter goals.
Just as that formula seemed out of kilter, Nankervis kicked a pair of clever first-half goals, and Dusty Martin fixed the midfield issues by dominating the second quarter.
By game's end Preuss had been solid but not dominant.
Soldo, Balta and Nankervis (three goals) had given enough midfield service for the Tigers to run over the Dees.
TIGER TIME FOR CUBS
Much has been made of Tiger cubs Jack Ross and Riley Collier-Dawkins after impressive match-simulation form.
Collier-Dawkins had a handful of solid early touches, but finished with only six possessions. Ross (21 touches) hunts the ball strongly and aggressively.
Mav Weller led strongly and converted a lovely snap from the boundary in the third term after marking at full stretch under pressure.
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Martin's right leg seemed to buckle as he landed awkwardly in the second quarter.
But he shrugged it off and went about his business.
His superb kicking to space inside the forward 50 also stood out. He kicked two goals and had 21 possessions.
RICHMOND 3.4 8.8 13.15 16.17 (113)
MELBOURNE 7.2 9.2 11.3 16.5 (101)
Tigers: Nankervis 3, Riewoldt 2, Martin 2, Balta 2, Baker 2, Higgins, Short, Ellis, Rioli, Weller
Demons: T.McDonald 2, Weideman 2, Smith 2, Stretch, Petracca, Garlett, Fritsch, Harmes, Maynard, Wagner, Kennedy-Harris, Oliver, Neal-Bullen
Tigers: Rance, Houli, Balta, Martin, Short, Nankervis, Grimes
Demons: Brayshaw, Oliver, Salem, Harmes, Fritsch, Petracca, Preuss
Demons: Garlett (shoulder)
Umpires: Stevic, Whetton, Hay, Meredith